MANDEL: Dump truck driver on phone when he killed motorcyclist

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It was a beautiful day to be out on his motorcycle.

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Wolfgang Srenk was a 70-year-old grandfather, but also a “mischievous and adventurous spirit who loved riding motorcycles.” So on that sunny July 17, 2020, the entrepreneur was doing what he loved, riding his bike southbound on Kennedy Rd. towards Bloomington Rd. E. in the town of Whitchurch-Stouffville.

At the same time, Azzam Al-Derzi, 48, was driving a dump truck for his employer, Rafat General Contractor Ltd., and travelling westbound on Bloomington.

As Al-Derzi approached the Kennedy Rd. intersection, the traffic light had been yellow for five seconds and then red for another 13.6  seconds. But he didn’t seem to notice.

He was talking on the phone.

Travelling on the green light at about 70-80 km/h, there was little Srenk could do as the dump truck suddenly appeared before him. He applied the brake, causing his motorcycle to skid, but there is no match between a dump truck and a motorcycle where the bike can win.

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Srenk’s motorcycle slammed into the side of the truck. According to the agreed statement of facts read in to the Ontario Court of Justice, “there  is no evidence of braking activity by Mr. Al-Derzi.”

Srenk died instantly of multiple blunt force trauma. Al-Derzi remained at the horrific crash scene and co-operated with police.

According to his obituary notice, Srenk immigrated from Germany at a young age and was an ambitious, hard-working entrepreneur. He’d raised his “son and best friend” William on his own, sharing a love for playing catch, going to batting cages and collecting baseball cards, and then they worked together in business for more than 20 years.

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When Srenk met his wife Melanie, he treated her two children as his own, the notice said, and was “committed to his family.”

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An honourable man’s life, which touched so many, ended by an instant of another’s inattention.

On Monday, Al-Derzi, dressed in an orange construction suit, agreed to the facts and pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death.

Crown attorney Sean Doyle told the court Al-Derzi has admitted he was on three phone calls between 3 p.m. and 3:05 p.m. when he called 911.

Production records for his cell phone showed he received a call from a friend at 3 p.m. that lasted 2 1/2 minutes, and he then called a co-worker and spoke for just under two minutes.

The truck driver made another call at 3:04 p.m. to an unknown number that lasted for 24 seconds.

The red light camera at Kennedy Rd. and Bloomington Rd. E. showed he’d entered the intersection against the light at 3:03 p.m.

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Police believe Al-Derzi was using a hands-free Bluetooth device at the time. But obviously, he was too engrossed in his conversations to notice the light was red.

The location of the crash that killed Wolfgang Srenk
The location of the crash that killed Wolfgang Srenk Photo by Court exhibit /Toronto Sun

And that inattention is deadly. Ontario government statistics show a driver using a phone — even hands free — is up to four times more likely to crash than one focusing on the road. Transport Canada says distracted driving contributes to 21% of fatal collisions every year, up from 16% a decade ago.

That danger is compounded when the distracted driver is behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle carrying thousands of kilograms.

Al-Derzi will not be a menace on our roads for some time  — in a dump truck or otherwise.

After finding him guilty, Justice David Rose told him he was immediately prohibited from driving — with the length of that ban to be determined following a March sentencing hearing.

mmandel@postmedia.com

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